By Bob Clark
The new parish’s founding pastor was Rev. Frank Ready, a native of Massachusetts, born in 1930. He entered seminary for the Maryknoll Fathers, but transferred to the Diocese of Richmond and was ordained in Richmond in May, 1959. His early assignments were in Williamsburg, Richmond and Newport News, before he came to Northern Virginia in 1965 as Associate Pastor of St. Michael’s in Annandale, where he served until 1970.
When Richmond Bishop Walter Sullivan called him a month or so before the public announcement to tell him of his new assignment in Fairfax, Father Ready already had a track record as a building pastor; he was at that time the pastor of St. Therese’s in Chesapeake, Virginia, where he presided over the building and opening of a new church in 1972. Later he would launch another parish, Sacred Heart in Manassas, where he served as Pastor from 1984 to 1995.
Father Ready later recalled that his primary goal was to build the community of the new parish, to get the members of the congregation to depend on, and to help, each other. Without a physical presence in the form of a worship center for more than six years, the parish was literally the people who lived, worked and worshiped in it. He regarded as his greatest accomplishment, as he put it, “keeping the people together, preserving a sense of community.”
One Advent season, this sense of community was severely tested by the weather. Father Ready had planned for a penance service during Advent, and had arranged for a number of visiting priests to be on hand to hear confessions. Unfortunately, the area was hit by an unusually heavy (for December) snow storm, and none of the invited priests was able to attend. But the people came out in large numbers, all walking because the roads were impassable. So Father Ready heard all the confessions by himself. Someone produced a guitar, and the congregation sang folk and spiritual music all night as long as it took for the last confession to be heard. Father Ready recalled “Michael rowed that boat ashore for a really long time that night.”
One of Father Ready’s first tasks was to establish the liturgical arrangements and schedules that would govern the spiritual life of the new parish. Mass would be celebrated in the school on Saturday evenings at 5:00 pm and on Sundays at 9:00 am and 12:45 pm. Fr. Ready also encouraged members of the congregation to open their homes to him to celebrate Mass, and to invite neighbors to attend. In August, Father Ready announced the formation of a Liturgical Committee so that lay persons from the parish could take a leading role in the conduct of worship. Religious education classes would be held on Sundays at Hunt Valley. The sacrament of Baptism would be received either at Mass or in the home; First Communions would be given on an individual basis as the child was prepared; marriages and funerals would be held at St. Mary’s Historic Church through arrangements with the pastor of that parish. A call was issued for volunteers to serve as lectors, musicians, ushers, teachers, and altar servers; and the routine activities of the parish got under way.
Above is a copy of the first Bulletin of Nativity, dated July 1, 1973. In these days before photocopies and computer editing made document preparation easy, bulletins were typed manually on stencils and then reproduced by mimeograph machine. Correction of typos was expensive and cumbersome so the bulletins rarely came out perfectly. On occasion, when the parish’s lone secretary was out or overwhelmed by other business, Fr. Ready typed the bulletin stencils himself.
In addition to announcing the permanent name change of the parish from St. What’s-His-Name to Nativity, Father Ready also announced the signing of a lease for the parish house, where he would take residence about July 22, and that St. Mary’s had invited Nativity parishioners to their parish Labor Day picnic as a sign of neighborliness.
Baptisms would be received either at Mass or in the home; marriages and funerals would be held at St. Mary’s. Collections for the week of June 17 amounted to $384.29; for the week of June 24, $438.71.
Weekly collections rose in the coming months: over $600.00 in August; over $1,400.00 in November; down to about $900.00 in December; $1,300.00 in February, 1974; back to $1,400.00 by March; back down to $1,000.00 by April. By October, 1976, weekly collections were up to over $2,000.00, with about three-fourths of the total given through envelopes and about one-quarter in cash.
At first, Father Ready resided at the rectory at St. Michael’s Parish in Annandale, but by late July he had moved to the first parish house, on Ashbury Street in Springfield, where he would live for two years. In July 1975, a new parish house was purchased at 9525 Lyra Court in Burke. The new building housed the rectory and church office, and daily Mass was held there as well.
On August 17, 1973, an important milestone was passed: the first baptism at Nativity. The parents were Mr. and Mrs. Roger Davis, and their son was likewise named Roger.
Even though the new parish had many financial needs of its own, the parishioners showed they were still more than ready to come to the aid of those less fortunate. A drive to collect food for ECHO for Thanksgiving produced so many donations that the ECHO Food Chairman wrote to Father Ready: “We were overwhelmed at the sheer size of your Thanksgiving food offering. … It was one of the best collections we ever received.”
In December, the parish conducted the first-ever systematic census of the area within its boundaries to ascertain the correct Catholic population being served. Also in December it was announced that the parish had agreed to sponsor Boy Scout Troop 1100 in the West Springfield area. (Note that the parish still thought of itself as covering West Springfield; the Burke area hardly existed outside the little village of Burke, and those people were part of Holy Spirit Parish.)
The most critical physical need of the new parish was of course a building of its own where the congregation could worship and conduct other affairs of the parish. In February 1974 a parish building fund was established to begin to collect locally donated funds toward the new building. The property for the church building, at 9616 Old Keene Mill Road (the access road known as Nativity Lane did not exist with that name until 1979), was purchased in the summer of 1974. The tract of land, some 10.4 acres, sold for $117,500.00, or slightly less than $11,300 per acre. At one point during the negotiations, Father Ready proposed that the diocese acquire all of the land between Nativity’s current site and the corner of Old Keene Mill Road and Lee Chapel Road, which would have provided enough land for a high school complete with football field. The plan was not adopted as diocesan planners were more focused on acquiring the building that is now Paul VI High School.
Throughout the spring of 1974, the Watergate crisis grew increasingly severe and President Richard Nixon was embattled and seriously weakened. The United States Senate called for a National Day of Prayer to be held on Tuesday, April 30. In the church bulletin of April 28, “…the members of the Church of the Nativity are asked to set aside some time during Tuesday to pray for the leaders of our country and the members of this nation that they may aspire to a higher level of good government and citizenry. A special Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 A.M. at the Parish House.”
In August 1976, the Nativity congregation celebrated its third anniversary with a special pilgrimage and Mass at St. Michael’s Church in Annandale. It was reportedly the first time the entire congregation had celebrated Mass together. Father Ready unveiled a model of the new church, whose construction would begin in the next year. Also featured was a special banner designed for Nativity by Sandy Malakowski. (See photos below.)
For the next three years, Father Ready and the congregation worked to complete the numerous tasks necessary before construction could begin. Father Ready established a Parish Council that consisted of parishioners elected by the congregation; and the Council selected the firm of Michael F. LeMay to complete the architectural designs and oversee construction. The parish was polled to determine their views on what was needed in the new church, and the architect met with parishioners to discuss the poll results and his plan for space utilization. The estimated cost of this building was approximately $850,000.00. An organized fund-raising effort was begun in early 1975, with the dual goal of (1) raising between $250,000.00 and $350,000.00 of this sum, and (2) “increasing weekly offertory income substantially over a 2 or 3 year period.”
Ground was broken for the new building on June 11, 1977, on the fourth anniversary of the formation of the parish; shortly after, Father Ready announced the launching of a drive to raise $200,000 for the Memorial and General Phase Period of the Building Fund Campaign. For several weeks, volunteers called on the home of each registered parish family to solicit memorial gift pledges of from $600 to $10,000, to be used to purchase specific items for the new church, such as ambos, the two altars, the cross and bell tower, or the celebrant’s chair.
Father Frank Ready turns over the first spade of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony in June, 1977. To the left is Jack Herrity, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. To the right is Marie Travesky, member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors representing the Springfield District.
Meanwhile, the population of the Burke area was exploding. The region’s large planned community, Burke Centre, began to sell homes in early 1977, and it was only one of many new residential areas rising where farms had been only a decade before. The original boundaries of Nativity did not include any of the land on which Burke Centre would eventually be built, or any of the small village of Burke that had existed since before the Civil War. In June, 1975, however, Father Ready, acting with great foresight, proposed the expansion of Nativity’s boundaries to include roughly half of what became Burke Centre, as well as several housing developments that had sprung up in the vicinity of Burke but outside the parish’s original boundaries. All of this land, shown in the map below in yellow, had been originally within the St. Mary’s Parish boundaries, but the people living there were included within the Burke postal delivery zone and, according to Father Ready, identified more closely with Nativity as the parish that served their needs. By mid-summer of 1976 Nativity already had 468 registered families, and the Arlington Diocese Building Committee projected the total to rise to 600 families by the July, 1977 (when ground was broken to start construction of the new church) and to 1,000 families by summer 1980 (estimated date of occupancy).
1983 photo of Father Charles Dekeukelaere with First Communicant Robert Vincent Clark.
In the next few years, Father Ready was joined by two assistants, Father Dominic Tran Duy Nhat and Father Charles Dekeukelaere, both now deceased. They were assisted by two Permanent Deacons, William Saunders (1982-1984) and Michael Bazan (1983-1984).
Even before ground was broken for the church building, the parish had already established a full liturgical schedule. Masses were held in the Hunt Valley Elementary School on Saturdays at 5:00 pm, and on Sundays at 8:00, 9:00, 10:15, and 11:30 am, and 12:45 pm. Daily Mass was celebrated at the parish house on Lyra Court. A formal or traditional choir sang at the 11:30 Mass and a folk choir at the Saturday evening Mass. The Bishop of Arlington Diocese gave to the Parish the right to involve lay people in the distribution of Holy Communion as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Many other members of the Parish served as volunteers to be lectors, cantors, and ushers.
Other Parish activities included Boy Scouts, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), and Women of Nativity (WON). A card marathon ran monthly from October to May to foster community connections and raise money for the religious education program.
The Parish Constitution established a Parish Council to “…provide a way for each parishioner to participate more effectively in the Christian work of the Parish. This includes more effective communication with each other and with the clergy, as well as better cooperation and coordination in the pastoral, charitable, community and other endeavors of the parish.” The Council was given authority to vote (in consultation with the Pastor) on all Parish matters. The Pastor could veto a Council vote, but the council (by unanimous vote) could appeal the veto to “a higher diocesan authority” (presumably the Bishop). (In practice, this appeal was never used.) Meetings of the Council were open to all members of the Parish.
The Council consisted of 12 parishioners elected by the adult members (age 18 years and older) of all registered families for a two-year term. During the 1970s, the following parishioners served at least one term on the council: Frank Bauts, Bob Cole, Bob Fernander, John Hill, Rosalie Hufnagel, Ken Jensen, Jim Kirschke, Larry Kohler, Mary O’Brien, Jack Palmer, Jim Parker, Joe Pettit, Pat Reilly, Barbara Reynolds, Bill Robertson, Carol Ryan, Mike Shannon, Dick Venaglia, Art Walker and Gene Wichmann. By 1976, the Council had created a number of committees and sub-committees charged with different aspects of parish life: buildings and maintenance, ecumenical affairs, finance, liturgy, parish growth (e.g., social and fund-raising activities), pledge campaigns, public relations, religious education, social development (e.g., family assistance), and vocations.
One of the most important activities of the council during the mid-1970s was the work of the Family Assistance Committee. This committee emerged ad hoc in response to the need to help in the re-settlement of a Vietnamese refugee family. A number of parishioners had served in the military in Viet Nam and sought to be helpful to this family, whose father had been a Navy Commander. With the aid of this committee and other parishioners, the family was moved from the Indiantown Gap (PA) Relocation Center to Springfield, a home and furnishings were obtained as were food and clothing for the family, and the father was helped to find a job at a local department store warehouse.
The report of the parish General Operating Fund as of June 30, 1978, suggests something of the size of the parish at the time. The nearly sole source of parish income were the Sunday and Holyday collections, which brought in nearly $150,000.00. The parish was able to transfer more than $21,000.00 to the building fund while the rest (more than $136,000.00) went to meet operating expenses (principally lay personnel salaries), clergy support, subsidy of religious education (nearly $20,000.00), and rent for the continued use of Hunt Valley School (nearly $10,000.00 for the year). There were 58 Baptisms, 61 First Communions, 85 Confirmations, two converts, seven marriages, and three deaths.
This map, taken from a parish publication from about 1978, shows the extent of the parish and its existing boundaries at that time, as well as the sites of the new church (then under construction), the parish house, and the Hunt Valley Elementary School.
After more than two years of construction, the church was finally ready for the celebration of its first Mass, which took place on Friday, October 12, 1979. In a 7:30 pm Mass that evening, the bishop of Arlington, Thomas Welsh, confirmed 24 young people. Beginning the next day, the Mass schedule established in the new church was as follows: Vigil Mass, Saturday at 5:00 pm (folk Mass), and Sunday Masses at 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30 am. The religious education program was set to begin the following Sunday, October 14. The church was formally dedicated on April 26, 1980, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Welsh.
This is a letter sent to all parishioners, dated October 7, 1979, announcing the completion of the church and the first celebration of Mass the following October 12.
Soon after the church was opened, a nursery was established to care for young children during each of the Sunday Masses. Approximately 65 families used the nursery each week. Supervision was on a cooperative basis, so each family was called on for supervisory duty about six times each year. The nursery was located in the space now occupied by the All-Purpose Room and the Gift Shop.
In 1984, Sacred Heart in Manassas was raised in status from that of a mission church (dependent on Holy Family Parish in Dale City) to that of a full Parish with a resident Pastor. Father Ready was selected for that assignment. On May 30, 1984, Father Ready wrote to the Nativity community for the last time as their pastor. He asked their support for their new pastor and a newly ordained associate, who would replace him. Father Ready thanked the Nativity family who “… have given me an experience that I will remember and look upon with deep satisfaction.
“As I leave this parish, I leave you a church center that is paid for, a beautiful Blessed Sacrament Chapel, a statue of the Risen Christ …, and I am told some $50,568 plus in the savings to meet the immediate needs …
“I also leave you with memories of the joy of liturgical celebrations, the sorrows of burying your dead, the delight of baptizing your children and giving them the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, … The Spirit of God has blessed us, you and me alike. Your presence and prayerful support have always been there. I have counted on it with confidence.
“’Lest the Lord build a Church, they labor in vain who build it.’ This sacred lesson has been understood by all at Nativity. God has blessed this parish.”
Father Frank Ready passed away on January 20, 2015.